The Class of 1989 permanently changed the face of country music. Clint Black was its valedictorian.
Many stars shone brighter before they quickly faded away. Steve Wariner stayed humble and relied on his talent, and he managed to outlast all of them.
A musician since receiving his first guitar at age eight, Brad Paisley emerged in the late nineties and became the most consistently successful radio artist in the decade that followed.
Paisley’s career began in earnest when he penned his first song at age twelve, “Born On Christmas Day.” His junior high principal invited him to perform at a local function. He was spotted by a representative of Jamboree USA, and after one performance, he was invited to join the cast.
Written by Paul W. Dennis of The 9513.
Chet Atkins had many disciples, not the least of whom was Steve Wariner. Steve was a major country star and chart presence from 1980-1994 with scattered success both before and after his peak years.
As we reach the halfway point of the countdown, seventies stars like Tanya Tucker and Don Williams prove just as relevant to the decade as newbies like Terri Clark and and Clay Walker. But it’s eighties original George Strait that dominates this section with three additional entries.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #225-#201
Mary Chapin Carpenter
1992 | Peak: #4
A lightweight wish list/love ditty that somehow seems to tap into a deep well of truth. Credit Carpenter’s soulful vocal, which digs in and finds the cohesive character written between the song’s separate cute lines. – Dan Milliken
Lacy J. Dalton
1990 | Peak: #15
The electric guitar line sounds cribbed from The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, but the sentiment couldn’t be much more different. Dalton is tense all over, as bad omens seem to stack on top of each other while she waits in anticipation of one big let-down. – DM
A lot of songs from both ends of the charts here, including a husband-and-wife duet that spent six weeks at #1.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #250-#226
I Meant Every Word He Said
Ricky Van Shelton
1990 | Peak: #2
At least the third song on this list about a guy mulling over romantic gestures he wishes he’d made to his former love, and the most traditional among those songs. You could easily imagine this one being a minor classic by a 60’s or 70’s legend, so close is its replication of that style. – Dan Milliken
I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying
Toby Keith with Sting
1997 | Peak: #2
My hard-and-fast rule for Toby Keith: The sadder he is, the happier the listening experience tends to be. He’s all kinds of sad in this snapshot of post-divorce melancholia, reflecting on everything from unfair custody protocol to the greater motions of the universe. Even a gratuitous Sting cameo can’t detract from the single’s gloomy grandeur. – DM
You Ain’t Much Fun
1995 | Peak: #2
Toby Keith is also funny, though. What’s a man to do? Sobering up ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be from is perspective. Ever since he’s done so, his wife has been taking advantage of his increased functionality by giving him honey-do lists that he wasn’t ably tackling pre-sobriety. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. – Leeann Ward
This section begins with a song about a farmer and his wife and ends with one about Mama. Doesn’t get much more country than this!
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #275-#251
Somewhere Other Than the Night
1992 | Peak: #1
About a woman who only feels truly appreciated by her husband when they’re having sex. That kind of says it all, doesn’t it? – Dan Milliken
Looking Out For Number One
1993 | Peak: #11
From his rocking side, Tritt is tired of trying to please everyone around him, including his demanding lover. As a result, he brashly declares that he’s going to make some changes, which will include looking out for himself. Get out of the way, because his ferocious performance makes him seem quite serious about his epiphany. – Leeann Ward
Let That Pony Run
1992 | Peak: #1
Gretchen Peters wrote the gorgeous song and Pam Tillis, in turn, beautifully sings it. The song is about Mary, a woman who is forced to start a new life after her husband confesses his infidelities with no apologies. The story is sad, it’s resilient, and it’s hopeful. – LW
I Just Want to Dance With You
1998 | Peak: #1
Any monotony in the verses is overcome by the song’s completely enticing rhythm and flavor. How can you not get lost in this? – Tara Seetharam
The list continues with appearances from artists who first surfaced in the eighties and continued to thrive into the nineties, like Reba McEntire and Patty Loveless, along with new stars from the nineties who would find greater success in the next decade, like Toby Keith and Brad Paisley.
400 Greatest Singles of the Nineties: #300-#276
Does He Love You
Reba McEntire with Linda Davis
1993 | Peak: #1
This two-female duet was a gamble at the time of its release, but it offers such a brilliant fusion of perspectives that it’s hard to imagine why. The song fleshes out the range of emotions that the two women are experiencing –from pain to longing to self-doubt– and culminates in one shared question that they’ll never know the answer to: “does he love you like he’s been loving me?” – Tara Seetharam
As with the similar CMA category of Single of the Year, looking over the history of this category is the quickest way to get a snapshot of country music in a given year. There is a quite a bt of consensus among the two organizations here, and it is very rare for the winner at one show to not at least be nominated at the other. The winners list here would make a great 2-disc set of country classics, at least for those who don’t mind a little pop in their country. The ACM definitely has more of a taste for crossover than its CMA counterpart, and the organizations have only agreed on 17 singles in the past four decades and change.
As always, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back to 1968.
- Zac Brown Band, “Toes”
- Billy Currington, “People Are Crazy”
- Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now”
- Miranda Lambert, “White Liar”
- David Nail, “Red Light”
There’s usually a “Huh?” nominee among the ACM list in recent years. This year, it’s David Nail. Good for him! Currington hasn’t won yet for this hit, even though he got himself a Grammy nomination for it. With Lady Antebellum reaching the upper ranks of the country and pop charts with “Need You Now”, my guess is that they’re the presumptive favorites. Then again, Miranda Lambert is a nominee for the third straight year, and she’s up for her biggest radio hit.
- Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
- Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
- Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder & Lead”
- Heidi Newfield, “Johnny and June”
- Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ On a Woman”
Adkins has been a fairly regular fixture on country radio since 1996, but this was his first major industry award. He also won the ACM for Top New Male Vocalist in 1997.
Here are the winners in the country and country-related categories from the pre-telecast:
Best Country Song: Liz Rose & Taylor Swift, “White Horse”
Best Country Instrumental Performance: Steve Wariner, “Producer’s Medley”
Best Country Collaboration with Vocals: Carrie Underwood & Randy Travis, “I Told You So”
Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: Lady Antebellum, “I Run to You”
Best Female Country Vocal Performance: Taylor Swift, “White Horse”
Best Male Country Vocal Performance: Keith Urban, “Sweet Thing”
Best Contemporary Folk Album: Steve Earle, Townes
Best Bluegrass Album: Steve Martin, The Crow/New Songs for the Five-String Banjo
Best Americana Album: Levon Helm, Electric Dirt
Best Southern/Country/Bluegrass Gospel Album: Jason Crabb, Jason Crabb